Gaming laptops are a great, somewhat portable alternative to the powerful and towering desktop PC. But there’s a lot more you need to know than just the laptop’s raw power. A laptop with the best graphics card, SSD and processor may have the specs to blow your mind, but it could all underperform if the components overheat easily and don’t have proper airflow. Battery life can also impact the stability of your gaming performance. And while your probably don’t want to always use an external mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB backlighting, the system’s WASD keys feel like mashed potatoes under your fingers.
All of that doesn’t come cheap, though if you’re on a tight budget and know where to compromise — such as looking for a model with components that you can upgrade later to make your up-front cost a little lower, or opting for a screen that’s lower resolution and slower — you can still get something that will ensure a good gaming experience.
Plus, advances in cloud gaming mean you can play more games on lower-end hardware than ever before. So it’s not a given that you’ll need to bust your budget to pay for a new laptop. You do have subscription fees, then, so make sure to factor that in.
Check out our recommendations for the gaming laptops below. This list is periodically updated as we test and review products, so that you can hopefully find your own best gaming laptop
HP Victus 16
The HP Victus 16 is a strong, affordable option. It offers a respectable balance for people with different needs for play and work. Spending more will likely get you better build quality and more enjoyable audio. But if you can get past the screen wobble, the Victus can hold its own against pricier models.
Prices start at about $700 for the 15-inch model, but I really recommend avoiding configurations with 8GB RAM; MacOS can get away with that, but Windows has more overhead. For a little more ($890), you can get a reasonable low-end model that you won’t outgrow quickly with an Intel i5-12450H, 12GB RAM, 512GB PCIe NVMe, a 144Hz 1080p screen and GeForce GTX 1650.
The cheapest model should still be able to play most games in 1080p with the graphics settings at medium to high.
Acer Nitro 5
The Acer Nitro 5 comes in both 17.3- and 15.6-inch sizes. A 17-inch cheap gaming laptop is a rarity with entry-level gaming laptops; most sub-$1,000 gaming laptops have 15.6-inch displays, and the Acer’s larger screen lets you sink in and get lost in your chosen gaming world. The 17-inch version we reviewed starts at less than $900 with an AMD Ryzen 5 5600H,1080p screen and an GTX if you’re OK with 8GB RAM. If you can manage about $200 more though, you can get a significantly better system, with an i7-11800H, RTX 3050 Ti and 16GB RAM.
At this level, you’ll be able to play current games at FHD resolution with the graphics settings at medium to high, depending on the game you’re playing, of course. Still, Acer makes an affordable gaming laptop that packs in some nice extras like direct controls for power and cooling and upgrades access to memory and storage.
Razer Blade 14
A smaller version than the 15-inch staple, the 14-inch Razer Blade delivers a lot of gaming power for its size without feeling small — an important consideration for a gaming laptop. It also offers decent battery life, a nice size for travel and a subtle design (for a gaming laptop) that’s buttoned-up enough for sitting in a meeting with the top brass or clients.
Asus ROG Flow X13 With XG Mobile
Asus pairs an ultraportable 13-inch two-in-one that has a relatively powerful AMD CPU with an external GPU dock equipped with a near-top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 mobile processor, and the result is an incredibly flexible system for both work and play that outperforms many bigger, clunkier gaming laptops. Because it’s a two-in-one, you can comfortably use an external gaming keyboard without the built-in keyboard getting in the way. The stand-alone model has gotten an upgrade to an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti since I reviewed it, but the bundle with the XG Mobile still has a GTX 1650.
Other notable gaming laptops we’ve tested
We’re working our way through a raft of 2022 systems, and we’ll update here with those that stand out — just not quite enough for a blanket recommendation.